Some would like to think that sexual harassment for female physicians has gotten better over the years since there are many more female healthcare professionals. However, medicine is still a male-dominated industry and the gender gap is still prevalent. Female doctors only get paid 69 percent of what their male equivalents do, and women only account for 18 percent of hospital CEOs in the United States.
This can pose a concern for locum tenens physicians who travel, working at different healthcare organizations around the country. What do you need to know about sexual harassment in the healthcare industry, and how can you help protect yourself?
Modern Definition of Sexual Harassment
Most of us have seen the outdated videos about workplace harassment. Some of us have even sat through mandated meetings with coworkers awkwardly role playing how to handle harassment.
But sexual harassment is more than the classic quid pro quo or a working environment with a lot of sexual overtures. There are much more subtle forms of harassment, and it may be more gender-based.
Attacking someone with gendered epithets or expressing that someone is unwanted or unqualified due to their gender are other ways that people experience harassment in the workplace. All genders deserve fair treatment in the workplace, but women are more likely to experience harassment.
How Common is Workplace Harassment in Medicine?
In May of this year, Reshma Jagsi, MD, D.Phil, associate professor and deputy chair of radiation oncology at University of Michigan Medical School led a study. Her team based their findings on 1,066 physician-scientists who were asked about topics that included gender bias, gender advantage, and sexual harassment.
The study found that even though there are more female physicians in 2016 than there have ever been before, many are still facing harassment from patients and fellow doctors. According to their research letter, 66 percent of women reported experiencing gender bias compared to just 10 percent of men. About one-third of women experienced sexual harassment compared to just 4 percent of men.
Jagsi stated, “This is a sobering reminder that our society has a long way to go before we achieve gender equality.” This isn’t the first study to explore harassment of medical professionals, nor is it the first to demonstrate that women are not being treated fairly in the healthcare sector.
A History of Sexual Harassment
In the recently released letter it states, “In a 1995 cross-sectional survey, 52% of US academic medical faculty women reported harassment in their careers compared with 5% of men”.
That shocking statistic has long been attributed to the fact that women were a minority in medicine at this time. However, more recent reports evidence that sexual harassment and gender bias are still significant issues.
In 1998, a report was released with results from an investigation of the prevalence of harassment among U.S. women physicians. They analyzed the responses of 4,501 respondents to the Women’s Physicians’ Health Study. Nearly 37 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment, and approximately half reported experiencing gender-based harassment.
The study found that younger women were more likely to be harassed than older women. Rates of harassment or gender bias were higher for females during their internship or residency compared to in practice.
Protecting Yourself As Locum Tenens
Every hospital and healthcare organization will have different rules and procedures regarding how they handle sexual harassment. When finding locum tenens jobs, do some extra research on prospective hospitals. An organization dedicated to preventing and stopping harassment will take the “extra mile” to make sure employees feel safe.
Are the top leaders in the healthcare organization committed to stopping or curbing harassment? Healthcare organization leaders should be vocal and public about their stance. Do they make sure that their employees get treated with respect?
Look for hospitals that have clear anti-harassment policies in place. They should be documented and readily available to you at your request. Organizations that do not have formally recorded policies probably have more complaints of harassment. When looking at the anti-harassment policy, take note of the complaint process. There should be multiple avenues for someone to report an incident; not just through your supervisor.